UP Windsor’s Othello Blends Past and Present With Exceptional Acting

(Sarah Hagarty cast as Desdemona and Jamar Adams-Thompson cast as Othello performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players’ (UP Windsor) production of Othello at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo above by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.)

In true Shakespearean ambiance there are few modern conveniences in Othello, William Shakespeare’s most celebrated tragedies. The first play of University Player’s 61st season opens Friday, September 27 at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall Theatre and it brings to the stage a full meandering study of the human condition that bodes well for claiming Shakespeare, or the Bard as he is known, is as relevant today as he was back in his day.

UP Windsor Othello

University of Windsor drama students performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players’ production of Othello at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.

As to the ambiance, the actors are without the microphones often common in today’s commercial stage productions. What this means is a delightful evening of perfectly projected lines by the sixteen actors. It also means lighting is at a premium, by design.

Under the direction of lighting designer Kirsten Watt, there are no megawatt spotlights and thus no glistening actors. Instead, Watt sets a subtle stage in which shadows are the order of the day to reflect the use, in the latter part of the Sixteenth Century, of candles and torches. Not only is it fitting, it is also somewhat intimate, despite being set in the refined Essex Hall Theatre.

Curiously, the costumes are a blend of the period and modern times. It is not so much a distraction as it is an innovative way to bring the play into the 21st. Century.

Director Tanisha Taitt, UP Windsor Othello

Tanisha Taitt, director of University Players’ production of Othello talking to cast members during a dress rehearsal at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.

Director Tanisha Taitt, tells Eyes on Windsor, the mix is the result of a discussion between her and costume designer Agatha Knelsen who actually preferred a more traditional approach. For Taitt, mixing it up a bit is nothing if not a visual clue of the relevance of the play to today’s audiences. This relevance, she adds, is a matter of current discussion in theatrical circles.

Discussion or not, the play is the thing, a complex and composite study of meanness and the glory and gory of love all under one roof which, as can be expected, ends in dramatic tragedy. However, with that said, Taitt opens with protagonist Othello, played by the incredible Jamar Adams-Thompson, dancing with his wife. If there is something able to accurately telegraph glee, it has to be the joy that oozes between Adams-Thompson and Sarah Hagarty, cast in the role of Desdemona.

Sarah Hagarty and Jamar Adams-Thompson

Sarah Hagarty cast as Desdemona and Jamar Adams-Thompson cast as Othello performing a dance scene during a dress rehearsal of University Players’ (UP Windsor) production of Othello at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.

Hagarty dances with gravity defying grace, an earthy reality she abandons completely by later flying into Othello’s arms as he returns from war. There seems to be much love in the air between the two, but, this is a Shakespearean tragedy, so opening emotions can be deceiving, letting the audience to justifiably start questioning the motives of the other actors. And there is much to question, which makes the play so enjoyable.

What is not deceiving is the rock-solid performance of Adams-Thompson. Currently in his final year of the University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts Acting program, he has mastered the daunting task of perfectly conveying the emotions of his character even when there are no lines, using carefully crafted visual clues. It is a delight just to watch him strut in regal fashion across the stage, often followed by his entourage. And there is also that bit of a twinkle in his eye, possibly assigned there by Knelsen, exposing an immutable fact of him having the time of his life while his Othello lives under the considerable calamity of “suffering and distempered times.”

University of Windsor Drama Students Jamar Adams-Thompson and Cullen MacNaughton in Othello

Jamar Adams-Thompson (left) cast as Othello, and Cullen MacNaughton cast as Iago performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players’ (UP Windsor) production of Othello at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.

Much of this distemper is propagated by the scheming Iago, played with sullen duplicity by Cullen MacNaughton. Iago mentors the pleasant but frustrated Roderigo. To this role Jonathan Lombard brings considerable conflict to the surface, with a youthful diligence at a most appealing level.

University Players Cast of Othello Performing

From left, Avery MacDonald (Emelia), Sarah Hagarty (Desdemona) Cullen MacNaughton (Iago) and Justin Timbol (Montano) performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players’ production of Othello at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.

Jonathan Lombard and Dustin Sedore in UP Windsor's Othello

Jonathan Lombard cast as Roderigo (left) and Dustin Sedore cast as Brabantio performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players’ production of Othello at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.

And then there is Cassio. He is the only character to continually mention his first and last name.

Haiden Lyle cast as Cassio in Othello by University Players Windsor

Haiden Lyle cast as Cassio performing during a dress rehearsal of University Players’ production of Othello at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.

brings his own unequivocal uniqueness to the role leaving no doubt he is a party animal who loves having a good time which can be testament to his downfall, a story arch within the play.

Of course, a good time is awaiting all who enter the world of Othello. Possibly not so much for the characters, but it is the writings of Shakespeare complimented with considerable and relentless acting talent that turns the play into one as meaningful today as when it first opened at London’s famed Globe Theatre.

Othello runs on September 27, 28, 29, October 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6. Details can be found at http://www.universityplayers.com or on the Eyes On Windsor Events Calendar.

UP Windsor Othello Final Bow

University of Windsor drama students performing a final bow during a dress rehearsal of University Players’ production of Othello at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.

UP Windsor Othello Final Bow

University of Windsor drama students performing a final bow during a dress rehearsal of University Players’ production of Othello at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on September 24, 2019. Photo by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.

Robert Tuomi

Article by Robert Tuomi

For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.